Archive for the ‘Kanagawa Prefecture’ Tag

myōhonji: in search of the elusive mossy steps   8 comments

Saturday, June 17:  By the time I make it to Myōhonji, in the southeastern hills of Kamakura, it’s 3:40 and I realize that the chance of getting back to Hasedera by 5:00 is very slim. I seriously doubt I’ll have the energy to tackle that crowded Enoden Line to get back there; nor do I feel energetic enough to even stand in the line to see the hydrangeas.  Instead, I take my time trying to find some beautiful mossy steps that my Japanese friend Yukie posted on her Instagram feed.

Myōhonji is one of several temples of the Nichiren sect of Japanese Buddhism; it was founded by Hiki Yoshimoto in 1260 (japan-guide.com: Myohonji Temple).

gate to Myōhonji

Myōhonji

The Nichiren sect of Buddhism was founded by Nichiren in 1253. The sect was exceptional due to its intolerant stance towards other Buddhist sects. Nichiren Buddhism still has many millions of followers today, and several “new religions” are based on Nichiren’s teachings. (japan-guide.com: Buddhism)

gate at Myōhonji

Myōhonji

There is an extensive cemetery on the temple grounds and I go exploring every nook and cranny in search of the mossy steps.

cemetery at Myōhonji

cemetery at Myōhonji

I find one set of somewhat mossy steps, but they are not the ones I saw in the photographs.

somewhat mossy steps at Myōhonji

I continue to search, but, while I admire the pretty cemetery, I can’t seem to find those steps. 🙂

Coming down a path from one section of the cemetery at Myōhonji, I see this leafy path and wonder if the steps might be found here.  I wander down the path for a bit, but I don’t find them.

a leafy path

A statue of Nichiren stands to the left of the main hall on the temple grounds.

statue of Nichiren

statue of Nichiren

I walk up some other non-mossy hydrangea-lined steps to another section of the cemetery to no avail.

stairway to heaven

cemetery at Myōhonji

stairway lined with hydrangeas

cemetery at Myōhonji

cemetery at Myōhonji

Myōhonji

Myōhonji

I love the colorful carvings over the door of the gate.

gate at Myōhonji

If I can’t take pictures of mossy steps, I might as well take some fern photos.

ferns, but no moss

I follow another path, but it only leads to another small shrine.

hydrangea path at Myōhonji

bicycle in the bushes at Myōhonji

small shrine at Myōhonji

hydrangea pathway

Myōhonji

In the end, I give up.  I can’t find the mossy steps anywhere. It’s 4:20 when I finish at Myōhonji, and though it might be possible to make it back to Hasedera, it will be too much of a rush. I have a long walk back to Kamakura Station, plus I have to wait again for that frustrating Enoden Line and then climb up that hill through all the crowds at Hasedera.  I’m simply to hot, tired and exhausted after visiting Meigetsu-in, hiking the Daibutsu Hiking Course, visiting two temples along the way, seeing the Great Buddha and visiting Hasedera and Myōhonji.

At Kamakura Station, I get on the train to go back home.  After arriving at Fuchinobe, as I ride my bicycle home, I decide I’ll stop in at Curry Naan to have dinner.  I don’t feel like cooking after today, and I’m really sick of eating Bento boxes from the 7-11. I enjoy my regular vegetable curry and a huge piece of naan.  For some bizarre reason, the beer is filled to the brim with ice cubes.  I’ve never encountered that here before!  I’m paying for mostly ice and very little beer. 🙂

Vegetable curry at Curry Naan

This has been one very exhausting day!

Total steps (including Meitgetsu-in, the Daibutsu Hiking course, the Great Buddha, Hasedera, and Myōhonji): 23,379 (9.91 miles).

I’m wiped out!  Luckily it’s supposed to rain tomorrow, so I can finally have a relaxing day. 🙂

 

 

daibutsu: the great buddha of kamakura   7 comments

Saturday, June 17: After leaving the relative serenity of the Daibutsu Hiking Course and being thrust out alongside the busy road, I stop at the first available vending machine and buy a bottle of water.  I’ve grown fond of a particular brand of flavored sweetened water, and as is usual, I get the orange flavor.  Hot, tired and parched, I gulp it down in several minutes.

By 1:00, I’m at Kotoku-in Temple and in front of the Nio-mon Gate.  Kotoku-in belongs to the traditional Buddhist Jodo Sect founded by the priest Honen (1133–1212). He was a devotee of Amitabha, Buddha of the Western Pure Land, whose vow is to liberate all beings, irrespective of sex, age or social standing, regardless of whether the individual has engaged in good or evil deeds in their lives. According to the Jodo Sect belief system, one only needs to chant the nenbutsu to receive Amitabha’s protection and be reborn in his Pure Land. The nenbutsu is “Namu Amida Butsu” (I take refuge in Amitabha Buddha). (Kotoku-in: The Teachings of Kotoku-in).

gate to Kotoku-in Temple

The main draw of Kotoku-in is the Kamakura Daibutsu, or the Great Buddha of Kamakura. A colossal copper image of Amida Buddha (the Buddha of Eternal Light), it is unusual among Japanese Buddhist statues in that it sits in the open air. Designated a National Treasure by the Japanese government, the Buddha is some 11.3 meters tall and weighs around 121 tons. Though in size it falls short of the Great Buddha of Todai-ji Temple at Nara (an image of Rushana-butsu [Vairochana Buddha]), it essentially retains its original form; as such it serves as an example of Japanese historical Buddhist art (Kotoku-in: The Great Buddha).

Directly behind the Great Buddha are the hills of the Daibutsu Hiking Course that I walked over to get here.

the Great Buddha at Hase

The Buddha sits on a lotus throne on a stone platform, holding its hands in its lap, palms upward and thumbs touching; this is the mudra (position) of “Steadfastness of Faith.”  Its serene face and half-closed eyes reveal the Buddha’s calm nature.  This serenity should be the goal of the true believer.

Daibutsu, the Great Buddha

the Great Buddha

Daibutsu

the Great Buddha

Warazori, traditional Japanese straw sandals, hang on a corridor wall facing the Great Buddha. According to Kotoku-in’s website, they were a 1951 gift from the Matsuzaka Children’s Club of Hitachi-Ota City (Ibaraki Prefecture). As Japan was still recovering from the ravages of World War II, the sandals were given with the wish that “the Great Buddha would don them to walk around Japan, bringing happiness to the people.” Since 1956, the Matsuzaka Children’s Club has continued to weave these giant warazori and present them to Kotoku-in once every three years.

Buddha’s sandals

Daibutsu

the Great Buddha

girls in yukata with the Great Buddha

lotus and Buddha

me at the Great Buddha

The Kangetsu-do Hall is believed to have been part of the imperial palace in mid-15th century Hanyang (present-day Seoul), Korea. The Hall houses a standing image of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva (Kannon Bosatsu), probably from the late Edo period.

Kangetsu-do Hall

Hydrangeas are all the rage here in Kamakura, and Kotoku-in is no exception.  Near the Kangetsu-do Hall are some pretty pink blooms.

hydrangea at the Great Buddha

It’s only about a 7 minute walk from the Great Buddha to Hasedera Temple, so I walk down the street to see if I can make it into the queue for the hydrangea walk. I was too late to get in the queue last Saturday because I arrived after 4:00, having visited Enoshima during the earlier part of the day. On the way, I’m enticed inside a cozy little air-conditioned ice cream shop, where I treat myself to an ice-cream cone.

The ice cream is a wonderful refreshment, as is the break from the heat.  I love the churro stuck into the ice cream; it takes me back to memories of Spain.

an ice cream treat to beat the heat

After finishing my ice cream at 2:00, I continue my walk to Hasedera Temple, where I’m certain I’ll finally get to do the hydrangea walk. 🙂

the daibutsu hiking course: a love shrine and a money-washing shrine   9 comments

Saturday, June 17: After leaving Meigetsu-in at 10:40 a.m., I go in search of the Daibutsu Hiking Course, a 3km trail which begins at the steps just up the lane from the pretty temple, Jochi-ji.  The trail connects Kita-Kamakura with the Daibutsu, or Great Buddha, in Hase.  I begin the hike at 11:00, thinking the trail can’t possibly be that difficult, or that far.  I am quickly disavowed of this idea.

the beginning of the Daibutsu Hiking Course

The dirt trail climbs up and down over hilly terrain and through dense forest, over exposed serpentine tree roots and rocks.  Most of the time the trail is clearly marked, but at one point, several small groups are standing at a trail juncture not knowing where to go.  Luckily we’re directed by a passer-by to take the path to the left.  It’s hot and humid in the forest and with all the climbing, it’s not long before I’m covered in a layer of sweat.

through the woods

After a while, I come upon a clearing with picnic tables and, off to the side, Kuzuharaoka Shrine, a love shrine lined with rows of blooming hydrangeas.

hydrangeas at Kuzuharaoka Shrine

hydrangeas at Kuzuharaoka Shrine

There are stacks of heart-shaped ema, wooden plaques on which people write their wishes or prayers.

heart ema at Kuzuharaoka Shrine

Kuzuharaoka Shrine has a miniature version of Meoto Iwa, or Married Couple Rocks.  Meoto Iwa, a couple of small rocky stacks found in the sea off Futami, Mie, Japan, are joined by a shimenawa (a heavy rope of rice straw); they are considered sacred by worshippers at the neighboring Futami Okitama Shrine. According to legend, the rocks celebrate the union in marriage of man and woman (Wikipedia: Meoto Iwa).

Kuzuharaoka Shrine

Kuzuharaoka Shrine

In front of the shrine is a small pond with pretty irises.

irises at Kuzuharaoka Shrine

irises at Kuzuharaoka Shrine

iris bud at Kuzuharaoka Shrine

Kuzuharaoka Shrine

There are some beautiful hydrangeas here, and it is quite deserted compared to the crowded Meigetsu-in!

I love how the path to Kuzuharaoka Shrine is lined with colorful hydrangeas.

pathway to Kuzuharaoka Shrine

Kuzuharaoka Shrine

pathway to Kuzuharaoka Shrine

Kuzuharaoka Shrine

dragon at Kuzuharaoka Shrine

marker at Kuzuharaoka Shrine

hydrangea at Kuzuharaoka Shrine

Kuzuharaoka Shrine

Kuzuharaoka Shrine

Kuzuharaoka Shrine

After spending quite some time admiring the hydrangeas at this quiet little shrine, I sit at one of the picnic tables in the adjoining park and eat a sandwich I bought at a Kita-Kamakura Family Mart before starting the hike.

After walking quite a while up and over hills and stumbling over more exposed rocks and boulders, I find a fork in the path.  One sign indicates that if I go left, I can visit Zeniarai Benzaiten Ugafuku Jinja Shrine, better known as the “money washing temple.”  To the right is the path to Daibutsu.  It’s a long downhill detour to the shrine, but it is well worth going despite knowing I’ll have to climb back up that hill to get back on the Daibutsu Trail.

The shrine was founded around 1185 by Minamoto Yoritomo (1147-99), although the present buildings date from some time after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. He built the shrine after a god appeared to him in a dream and advised him to build a shrine to bring peace to the country.  The dream occurred on the day of the snake, in the month of the snake, in the year of the snake.  Because of the timing, the shrine was later dedicated to the Benten, a Buddhist goddess associated with snakes (japan-guide.com: Zeniarai Benten Shrine).

The shrine was originally dedicated to the kami Ugafukujin, whose symbol is a snake with a human head.  Kami are spirits worshipped in the Shinto religion and can be elements of the landscape or forces of nature, as well as beings and the qualities that these beings express; they can include the spirits of venerated dead persons (Wikipedia: Zeniarai Benzaiten Ugafuku Shrine).

The entrance is through a tunnel carved out of a natural stone cliff topped with moss, foliage and trees.

entrance to Zeniarai Benzaiten

The tunnel continues through a line of torii gates on the other side of the cave entrance.

torii gates at Zeniarai Benzaiten

Sadly I can’t find the significance of the rooster ema at Zeniarai Benzaiten Ugafuku Jinja Shrine.

ema at Zeniari Benzaiten

Zeniarai Benten Shrine fuses elements of Buddhism and Shinto.  Many other shrines were stripped of their Buddhist connections when the Meiji government attempted to separate Shinto from Buddhism.

Worshippers are advised to get a set of three candles and incense sticks from the shrine office, and to borrow a basket. At the main shrine, they should light the first candle with the big candle there and put it on the candleholder, and place incense sticks in the incense burner. They should bow twice, clap their hands twice and bow once again to pray (jntoJapan: the official guide: Zeniarai Benten Shrine).

Zeniarai Benzaiten

incense at Zeniarai Benzaiten

Next, visitors are advised to go into the cave, put the second candle on the candleholder, and wash money in the basket by pouring the holy water on it with a ladle (jntoJapan: the official guide: Zeniarai Benten Shrine). It is variously said that money will double or multiply if washed in this stream, and by the number of people who are here washing their money, it seems many hope this will actually happen.

inside the cave at Zeniarai Benzaiten

money-washing at Zeniarai Benzaiten

shrine inside the cave at Zeniarai Benzaiten

origami cranes in the cave

origami cranes

activity in the money-washing cave

ema at Zeniarai Benzaiten

waterfall at Zeniarai Benzaiten

Visitors should then offer prayers at Shichifuku-jinja Shrine, which is said to have power to bring prosperity in business, and put the last candle there.

shrine at Zeniarai Benzaiten

creature in the garden

Next, worshippers should climb the stairs and visit Kaminomizu-jingu Shrine and Shimonomizu-jingu Shrine to pray.

shrine at Zeniarai Benzaiten

shrine at Zeniarai Benzaiten

torii at Zeniarai Benzaiten

ema at Zeniarai Benzaiten

Finally I leave the money-washing temple and climb the steep hill back to the Daibutsu hiking trail, where I continue my walk over undulating terrain.  Strangely, I find this rather Western-looking house right along the trail.

a house along the Daibutsu Hiking Course

I find a nice view of Sagami Bay from the mountain trail.

view of Sagami Bay and Hase from the Daibutsu Hiking Course

About an hour and a half after beginning the hike, I make my descent from the mountains and by 12:30, I’m on the road leading to Daibutsu, the Great Buddha.

 

 

 

meigetsu-in: the temple of the clear moon (aka the hydrangea temple)   12 comments

Saturday, June 17:  This Saturday morning, I get up early to tackle an ambitious quest. My plan is to arrive in Kita-Kamakura by 9:00, visit the Hydrangea Temple Meigetsu-in, then take the Daibutsuzaka Hiking Course to the Great Buddha of Hase, called Daibutsu. After that, I plan to go to Hasedera for the second time to hopefully make it on the hydrangea walk.

It’s a hot day today, and I have a lot of walking ahead of me. Little do I know how exhausting it will be.  I get a bit of a later start than I intend, arriving at Kita-Kamakura at around 8:45.  When I walk out of the station, the crowds are already thick.  People seem to be in some kind of slow-moving queue, but I don’t think it can be a queue for Meigetsu-in because a sign indicates it is a half kilometer away.  At a certain point the loose queue takes a sharp left at a road where the sign points to Meigetsu-in. At that time, it dawns on me that these people are in fact in a queue for the temple.  People have been walking to the right of the queue and I’ve just been happily following along.  But at the point where the road turns left, the people I’m following peel off to the right and I realize I should have been in the queue.  I hope I can just blend in and join the queue at this juncture; I keep my head down and merge in, hoping I won’t arouse anyone’s ire. The Japanese are generally too polite to say anything.  I feel bad, but there is no way I’m going to go back to the end of that queue upon my belated realization.

Still.  Even though I join the queue at this juncture, it’s still another quarter kilometer to the temple. It’s already hot and humid, and the queue is moving slowly.  I’ve come a long way and I’m not about to turn around and give up, so I will myself to be patient and just go with the flow. It’s hard!  Patience and crowd-tolerance have never been virtues of mine. 🙂

Finally, at about 9:15, I pass through the entrance to Fugenzan Meigetsu-in (福源山明月院), a Rinzai Zen temple of the Kenchō-ji school (Wikipedia: Meigetsu-in). Meigetsu-in was founded in 1160 as the Meigetsu-an (Bright Moon Hermitage) by Yamanouchi Tsunetoshi for the repose of the soul of his father Toshimichi, who died in the Battle of Heiji the previous year.  This battle was part of the struggle for power between the Taira and Minamoto clans in the late Heian Period.

Meigetsu-in, the Temple of the Clear Moon

Meigetsu-in later became part of a larger temple complex called Zenkoji, which was abolished during anti-Buddhist movements soon after the Meiji Restoration, leaving only Meigetsu-in to remain as an individual temple today (JapanGuide.com: Meigetsuin).

The main object of worship is the Kannon Bodhisattva, the deity of compassion. This bodhisattva is variably portrayed in different cultures as either female or male (from the Meigetsu-in brochure).

hydrangea at Meigetsu-in

Famous for its hydrangea that bloom during June’s rainy season, it’s also known as Ajisaidera, The Temple of Hydrangeas. About 95% of the hydrangea here are of the Hime Ajisai (“Princess Hydrangea”) variety; they are thus named because of their pretty blue colors.

hydrangea heaven

blue hydrangea

Though the hydrangeas are beautiful, I am annoyed by the crowds, which make for slow going.  It is also nearly impossible to get pictures with the hydrangeas and the temple buildings together, which is the point of coming here.  I could see hydrangeas anywhere, but to see and enjoy them in this setting, in the midst of the temple complex, is the enticement for being here. However, it’s a challenge to take photos without people in them.

I love the ema at Meigetsu-in with their painted hydrangeas.

ema at Meigetsu-in

ema at Meigetsu-in

Buddha cradling hydrangeas

hydrangea ema

The founder’s hall (Soyudo) is a thatched roof building that enshrines the temple’s founder and stores mortuary tablets of the succeeding head priests (JapanGuide.com: Meigetsuin).

Founder’s Hall (Soyudo)

water purification

hydrangea love by the Buddha

I love how the statues wear blue bibs and have hydrangeas artfully arranged around them.

hydrangeas at Meigetsu-in

Buddhist dignitaries

Buddhist dignitaries and hydrangeas

Buddhist figures

In the back of Meigetsu-in’s lush temple grounds stands the main hall (Hojo). The building features a nice circular window, which frames the scenery of the inner garden behind it. Sadly there is a huge crowd around the hall and a long queue to take a photo of the circular window.  Maybe if I have time, I can come back when hydrangea season is over and get a photo of this.

The Main Hall

The inner garden is known for its irises and is open to visitors only during two periods of about two weeks per year: in June when the irises are in bloom, and in late November/early December when the autumn colors are at their best (JapanGuide.com: Meigetsuin)

raked sand in the inner garden

pond in the inner garden

the inner garden

iris in the inner garden

irises

irises

I enjoy walking around the iris garden; I find a little waterfall on an adjacent path.

waterfall in the inner garden

From the inner garden, where the crowds are not so thick because of the additional entrance fee, I can see the round window of the Main Hall from the back side.  The round shape of the window means to be complete or perfect in Buddhist terminology.

the round window in the Main Hall – view from inner garden

the inner garden

Back in the main temple grounds, I make my way slowly to the entrance of the temple.  It’s slow going with the crowds and the many times I must stop to take photos. 🙂

There’s also a pretty bamboo grove at Meigetsu-in that towers overhead and glows in the sunlight.

bamboo forest at Meigetsu-in

bamboo looming

Oh, the hydrangeas at Meigetsu-in!  They’re so beautiful; I guess it’s no wonder Tokyo residents come out in droves to see them.

hydrangeas

hydrangeas

hydrangeas

hydrangeas

When I’m finally able to get a photo of a shrine at Meigetsu-in, there are no hydrangeas in sight!

shrine at Meigetsu-in

Due to the temple’s name’s connection to the moon (Meigetsu literally means “bright moon”; and phonetically can also mean “harvest moon”), rabbits are associated with it in relation to the Japanese folklore of a rabbit pounding a rice cake on the moon. Accordingly, rabbit designs are found on some of the temple’s decorations, while a few real rabbits are kept in cages on the temple grounds (JapanGuide.com: Meigetsuin).

rabbit at Meigetsu-in

rabbits at Meigetsu-in

At long last, I’m released from the crowds at Meigetsu-in.  Now I need to find the beginning of the Daibutsu Hiking Course, a 3km wooded trail that connects Kita-Kamakura with the Daibutsu in Hase, and passes several small, quiet temples and shrines.

 

a hopeful trip to hasedera (attempt #1): too late for the hydrangea walk :-(   9 comments

Saturday, June 10: After leaving Enoshima at 3:30, I debate whether I should try to go to Kamakura’s Hasedera Temple to see the hydrangea.  I’m so close, or so I think, that I should be able to squeeze it in while I’m here in the south of Kamakura.  I’m already tired from my walk all around Enoshima, but, in a foolhardy last-minute decision, I decide I’ll “hop” on the Enoden Line and go for it.

The Enoden, or Enoshima Electric Railway, is a 10km long private railway that connects Kamakura Station in Kamakura with Fujisawa Station.  The line is single-track; however, five of the route’s fifteen stations are equipped with passing loops, allowing for bi-directional traffic. Stations en route include Hase, the stop closest to Kōtoku-in (高徳院), the temple with the Great Buddha, or the Daibutsu (大仏).  It’s also very close to Hasedera Temple, known for its eleven-headed Hase Kannon Buddhist statue and its abundance of hydrangea in June.

Enoshima Station on the Enoden Line

Little do I know how much of a hassle it will be taking the Enoden Line.  Though it is considered a charming mode of transportation, it is not so charming when hordes of people are trying to take it. The trains run infrequently, have a small number of cars, and run on a single track line.  All of these factors, combined with huge crowds attempting to visit the hydrangea in Kamakura, make it frustrating and claustrophobic.  Crowds are packed on the platform and when the train comes, people pack into the trains so tightly, it is difficult to move or breathe. I am the last to squeeze onto the train and my nose is almost caught by the closing doors!  The people standing behind me are left on the platform to wait for another train. Only a smattering of those people will be able to get on the next train.

I arrive at Hasedera after 4:15, which is rather short-sighted as most Buddhist temples close at 4:30 or 5:00.  I don’t know when I first enter the temple grounds that there is a special ticket one has to get to do the “hydrangea walk.” I meander around the grounds, admiring the few hydrangea near the bottom of the hill, along with the pretty ponds and gardens.

water garden at hasedera

water garden at hasedera

hasedera gardens

a stone lantern and pond at Hasedera

Hydrangea at Hasedera

figures at Hasedera

iris blooming at Hasedera

After wandering around the ground level gardens for a while, I follow some people up the steps to the small Jizo-do Hall. This small building enshrines Fukujyu Jizo. Here, visitors can pray for easy childbirth and prosperity.  Surrounding the hall are thousands of little Jizo statues standing in long rows.  The statues are there to comfort the souls of miscarried and deceased children. Jizo is a Buddhist saint who saves people and is believed to protect children.

little shrine

small Jizō statues at Hasedera

small Jizō statues at Hasedera

small Jizō statues at Hasedera

incense burner at Hasedera

After admiring all the Jizo, I continue up the steps until I come to the Kannon-do Hall. The statue of Hase Kannon is housed here.  It is 9.18 meters (30.1 ft.) tall and is one of the largest wooden Buddhist statues in Japan.  It has eleven heads in addition to its main one: three on the front, the right, the left, one at the top and another on the back.  Each face has a different expression, signifying that the Kannon listens to the wishes of all types of people and leads them away from distress.

According to legend, in 721 AD, the pious monk Tokudo Shonin discovered a sacred large camphor tree near the village of Hase in the Nara region. He commissioned two sculptors to carve two eleven-headed Kannon statues. The statue carved from the lower part of the trunk was enshrined in Hasedera Temple in Nara, and the statue from the upper half was thrown into the sea with a prayer that it would reappear to save the people.

Fifteen years later, on the night of 18 June 736, it washed ashore at the Nagai Beach on the Miura Peninsula not far from Kamakura, sending out rays of light in the process. The statue was then brought to Kamakura and a temple was constructed to honor it.

Kannon-dō (Main hall) at Hasedera

Although Kannon is usually described in English as “the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy,” strictly speaking it is neither masculine or feminine.  Kannon is a future Buddha, destined for enlightenment, who has vowed to save all sensitive beings and represents compassion, mercy and love.  Sadly, no photography is allowed inside the hall.

Next to Kannon-do is Amida-do Hall, where the golden seated statue of Amida Nyorai, one of Kamakura’s six principal statues of Amida Buddha is enshrined.

Amida-do Hall

The Amida statue is 2.8 meters (9.2 feet) in height, not including its large halo.  According to legend, in 1194, Minamoto no Yoritomo, the first shogun of the Kamakura Shogunate of Japan, commissioned the statue for warding off evil.  In later years, people came to believe it would expel evil spirits and offer protection against misfortune.

Amida Nyorai

To the right of Amida-do, there is a massive bronze bell.  The Shoro Belfry was constructed in 1955 and the current bell was cast in 1984.  The original bell, which was cast in 1264 (currently exhibited in the museum), is the oldest artifact where the title of Hasedera can be recognized.  It is the third oldest bell among Kamakura’s temples.

Following the Buddhist tradition, the bell is rung 108 times around midnight on New Year’s Eve to dispel the 108 sufferings of humanity.  This ritual is called Joya no Kane.

bell tower

The enshrined deity at Inari-Sha (Kakigara Inari) was initially dedicated to “Kojin” (god of the cooking stove and fire). The shrine was rebranded as Inari-sha in later years.  According to the legend surrounding the history of the Kannon statue, it appeared floating on the sea, drifting ashore with the guidance of “kakigara” (oyster shells) attached to the statue. This Inari-sha was established to enshrine the Kakigara and to receive the divine guidance of Kannon.

Inari-sha (Kakigara Inari)

oyster shell wishes

holy place

ema at Hasedera

I see a sign for Ajisai, which means hydrangea in English, to the left side of Kannon-do.  The sign tells something in Japanese about the Ajisai Garden, which has around 2,500 hydrangea of 40 different species planted on its grounds. On the steps of Kannon-do, I see people lounging around on the steps. It’s surprising, as this is rarely seen at Buddhist temples. In a small courtyard, a large crowd stands in a cordoned queue.

I try to walk into the entrance to join the queue, but the man there asks for my numbered ticket.  I don’t have a numbered ticket.  He says if I entered Hasedera after 4:00, it was too late to get a numbered ticket, and thus it is impossible to go on the hydrangea walk today.

Later, I realize that those people lounging on the steps were waiting for their number to be called for the Ajisai.

I have come all this way to be met with disappointment, as far as the hydrangea are concerned.  Still, Hasedera is a magnificent temple, so I try to make the best of it despite being tired from walking all around Enoshima earlier today.  At this point, I determine that I will come back another day; after all, I still have yet to see the Daibutsu, the Big Buddha, just a 5-minute walk from Hasedera.  I will have to arrive here earlier in order to get in the queue for the hydrangea walk.

This is the problem with being a foreigner in Japan, or in any country for that matter.  Since we don’t know the language, we’re often out of the loop in matters such as these.  For example, I came all this way without knowing that I had to get a timed ticket for the hydrangea walk.  I thought I could just go to Hasedera and walk around the grounds and see the hydrangea.

Kannon-dō (Main hall) at Hasedera

Near the courtyard are some adorable Bussokuseki, footprints of the Gautama Buddha. There are two forms: natural, as found in stone or rock, and those made artificially.  These are floating in a stone bowl.

Buddha’s footprints

garden of delight

Buddha’s footprints

Hasedera

In the Kyozo (space for storing Buddhist scriptures), there is a rotary bookshelf called a Rinzo. It is believed that when you rotate the Rinzo once, you will receive the same virtue as when you recite the complete scriptures. There are also eighteen prayer wheels called Mani-guruma which you can turn to receive virtue such as that from the Rinzo.

Kyozo

For people like me who can’t walk up the hill for the hydrangea walk, we can observe the people walking up the hill from a bamboo grove near the Kyozo.

bamboo grove at Hasedera

mini garden at Hasedera

From below, we can see the people who were fortunate enough to go on the hydrangea walk today.  It seems the hydrangea have some blooming ahead, so I’m sure I will see them one of the weekends in June.

the hill of hydrangeas – off limits today 😦

stone lantern

On the far side of the upper level is an observation platform overlooking the Yuigahama and Zaimokuza Beaches as well as Sagami Bay with the Sushi Marina and the Miura Peninsula in the distance. Luckily it’s a clear day today, so I have a fantastic view.

view of Sagami Bay from Hasedera

view from Hasedera

Kannon-dō (Main hall)

I head back down the steps and walk back through the pretty gardens to get to the exit.

carp pond

pathway

pond at Hasedera

pond at Hasedera

Before I leave, I take a slight detour to visit the Benten-kutsu Cave, where Benzaiten, the Goddess of water and wealth, and her followers of Sixteen Children are chiseled out of the rock walls. Benzaiten is the only female among the Seven Japanese Gods of Fortune.

little Buddha

torii leading to the cave, called benten kutsu (Benzaiten Grotto)

Benzaiten Grotto

ema at Benzaiten Grotto

pond at Hasedera

gardens at Hasedera

small shrine at Hasedera

By the time I leave Hasedera, it’s 5:20. As I wander down the main street, I find a small temple tucked into a short path off the street.  Here, I find some gorgeous hydrangea.

hydrangeas

rich blooms

hydrangeas

pretty in pink

white blooms

leafy wonders

hydrangea heaven

 

The main street where Hasedera sits also leads to the Big Buddha, but I know the temple will be closed by this time, so I don’t bother.  I have a plan to walk the Daibutsu hiking trail from Kita-Kamakura one day soon, ending up at the Big Buddha.  I will try to do the whole hike one day in June: the Daibutsu trail leading to the Big Buddha and then a return to Hasedera for the hydrangea walk.

On the street back to Hase Station, I stop in at some souvenir shops with some interesting flip-flops and seashell wind chimes.

fish flip flops

Japanese themed flip flops

sea shells wind chimes

Finally, I’m back at the Enoden Line, where the trains are so packed, I can’t even make it on to the first train that stops and I have to wait another 10 minutes or so for the next train.  At that time, I pack onto the train with hundreds of mainly Japanese, and some foreign, tourists. It’s amazing to me how the Japanese never seem to be flustered by anything. Despite frustrations and inconveniences, long queues, crowds, heat and humidity, they simply soldier through.  My students tell me most Japanese people don’t have any religion, yet I see Japanese people actively worshipping at every Buddhist temple and I see it in their acceptance of life as it is; as this is a core Buddhist teaching, I find it hard to believe they don’t have any religion or faith.

the Enoden Line

All information about Hasedera is from an English brochure created by Hasedera Temple (Hase Kannon).

Total steps today: 21,082 (8.93 miles).  Thank goodness the weather wasn’t too hot and there was a nice strong wind!

a june day on the tiny island of enoshima   2 comments

Saturday, June 10: Enoshima (江の島) is a small offshore island, about 4km in circumference, at the mouth of the Katase River, which flows into the Sagami Bay of Kanagawa Prefecture.  I take a trip down to the island this Saturday morning and end up at the bright red Enoshima Station.

Enoshima Station

Katase, the gateway city to Enoshima, is linked to the island by the 600-meter-long Enoshima Benten-bashi Bridge.  On another bridge, I get a view inland to Katase.

Inland waterway at Enoshima

After stopping by Tourist Information, I walk across the Enoshima Benten-bashi Bridge to the busy island.  The first wooden bridge to Enoshima was built in 1891.  Before then, when the tide was high, visitors rode on tiny boats or piggybacked on someone’s shoulders to travel between Katase Beach and Enoshima Island.  The vehicle bridge was built for the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games.

A lot of water activities are going on from jet skiing to sailing to windsurfing.

Enoshima Shrine Memorial

Enoshima Benten-bashi

The Enoshima Island Spa looks a bit like an Italian villa.  A show-off guy on a jet ski roars around doing figure-eights around the anchored jet skis.

jet skis and Enoshima Island Spa

I don’t know how this has happened, but I have arrived here with hardly any money, so I ask someone at Tourist Information on this side of the bridge about a Japan Post ATM; he directs me under the Bronze Torii Gate and up the main pedestrian walkway. I find the ATM and get some money.  Now I can look for something to eat. 🙂

The Bronze Torii Gate at the entrance to Enoshima was rebuilt in 1821;  it is a cultural asset of Fujisawa City.  The plaque atop the gate has the name of the main deity: “Enoshima Daimyojin.” After passing through the torii gate, the bustling approach to the shrine is packed with marine product shops, souvenir shops, inns, and traditional restaurants. The width of the street has not changed over the years.

Bronze Torii Gate

I see people walking around nibbling on giant sheets, made of what looks like heavy-duty cardboard, with some kind of fish baked into them. They’re bizarre looking, and I wonder what on earth they are.  Later I find they are a type of rice cracker, Maruyaki Takosenbei, made using an entire octopus.

Bronze Torii Gate

Hydrangea season is upon us now that it’s June, so I’m happy to find a couple of the beautiful blooms here on Enoshima.

hydrangea

Anywhere you go in Japan, you can find a little shrine of some kind tucked away into a small alcove.

small shrine

I’m always drawn to wind chimes, especially colorful ones.

wind chimes

There are three different shrines on Enoshima that are collectively known as Enoshima Shrine. They are all dedicated to the goddess Benzaiten, the island’s patron goddess all things that flow: words, eloquence, good fortune, wealth, music, and knowledge.  In the popular imagination she is the goddess of love.

According to Japanese mythology, Benzaiten created Enoshima Island as part of her battle with a troublesome sea dragon.

Zuishinmon

ceiling

part of Enoshima Shrine

Enoshima Shrine (Hetsunomiya) actually consists of three separate shrine pavilions: Hetsunomiya, Nakatsunomiya, and Okutsunomiya.  Each one is dedicated to a different goddess of the sea.  The main pavilion, Hetsunomiya, enshrines Tagitsuhimenomikoto.  The majestic worship hall was moved to the island by the Buddhist monk Ryoshin in 1206.  The present building was remodeled in 1976.

Enoshima Shrine (Hetsunomiya)

The Enoshima Benzaiten is one of three major Benzaiten shrines in Japan; the others are Hiroshima’s Miyajima, and Chikubushima in Shiga. Benzaiten is also popular as the only female among the Shichifukujin (Seven Gods of Good Fortune).  People in the Kamakura period (1192-1333) enshrined the eight-armed Benzaiten to pray for victims in battle. The character of Benzaiten worship later changed, and Edo era believers sought the two-armed (naked) Benzaiten’s help to improve their artistic and musical skills.

I pay an admission fee to go in to the Hoanden, or Octagonal Hall for the Statues: Hadaka (Naked) Benzaiten and Happi Benzaiten (Eight-armed Benzaiten). However, I’m not allowed to take pictures of the sacred statues, so I’ve included the sign with pictures below.

Hoanden (Octagonal Hall for the Statues)

Happi Benzaiten (Eight-armed Benzaiten) & Hakada (Naked) Benzaiten

Hoanden (Octagonal Hall for the Statues)

Enoshima Shrine offers pink ema with hearts on them, popular among couples.

Ema at Enoshima Shrine

Ema at Enoshima Shrine

Ema at Enoshima Shrine

View of Enoshima Benten-bashi from Enoshima Shrine

artistic rendering of Enoshima

As I climb up the rocky outcrop that is Enoshima, I catch a fabulous view to the north of Enoshima Yacht Harbor and the Enoshima Shonan Yacht Club House, along with the mainland of Katase across Shonan Harbor.

view of Enoshima Yacht Harbor

view of Enoshima Yacht Harbor

Enoshima Shrine (Nakatsunomiya) was built by Jikaku Daishi in 853 to worship the deity Ichikishimahimenomikoto.  The present shrine pavilion was rebuilt in 1689 and then remodeled again in September 1996. In 2011, new items enhancing “the shrine’s magnificence” were added: the carved transom fences on both sides of the hall which depict the four seasons, and the “Suikinkutsu” which makes a mysterious sound when water drips into it.

Enoshima Shrine (Nakatsunomiya)

Enoshima Shrine (Nakatsunomiya)

hydrangea heaven

hydrangea

The Enoshima Sea Candle is 60 meters (196.2 ft) high and 119.6 meters above sea level.  I don’t go up into the lighthouse observation tower today because it’s hazy and partly cloudy so I doubt I’d be able to the see the views of Mt. Fuji to the west, the Miura Peninsula to the east, or Oshima Island to the south.

Onetime Sea Candle (Lighthouse Observation Tower)

Looking out over the harbor from Enoshima Island, I can see a sailing regatta. Apparently, Enoshima will be the sailing and surfing venue for the 2020 Summer Olympics.

view from Enoshima

The branch temple of Enoshima Daishi was established by the Shingon Buddhist temple Saifukuji in Kagoshima in 1993.  A pair of red-faced Akafudo statues stand fiercely at the entrance.

red character at Enoshima Daishi

Enoshima Daishi

Figure at Enoshima Daishi

flowers at Enoshima Daishi

Statue at Enoshima Daishi

I am inspired by my Japanese Instagram friend Yukie, who adores Portugal and is always posting pictures of laundry throughout that country, to take photos of this laundry blowing in the strong wind near Enoshima Daishi.

laundry on the balcony

Yama Futatsu (Ridge between the Island’s two highlands)

Looking down over the south coast of the island, I can see sailboats in the distance.

Yama Futatsu with sailing regatta in the distance

Shrine along the way

stone lantern and hydrangea

Atop a “dragon cave” on Enoshima is a fierce-looking dragon.  The dragon is the stuff of legend on Enoshima.

According to Wikipedia:

The Enoshima Engi (江嶋縁起) is a history of the temples and shrines on the island.  It was written in Chinese, the scholarly language of the time, by the Japanese Buddhist monk Kōkei in 1047 AD.  The Enoshima Engi consists of two parts. The first tells the story of the tribulations of prehistoric villagers who lived in the vicinity of  Enoshima. The villagers were plagued for a period of a thousand-some years by a destructive, five-headed dragon in a nearby lake. Aware of their suffering, on May 31, 552 AD, the Goddess Benzaiten caused the island of Enoshima to arise from the bottom of the bay to serve as her abode. She then descended onto the island amidst a series of spectacular terrestrial and aerial phenomena. The dragon fell in love with the beautiful goddess and asked her to be his consort. Benzaiten, who was widely known for her persuasive eloquence, rejected the dragon’s proposal and made it understand that it had been doing wrong by plaguing the villagers. Ashamed, the dragon promised to cease its wrongdoing. It then faced south (devotedly facing the island where Benzaiten lived) and changed into a hill. To this day, the hill is known as Dragon’s-Mouth Hill.

fierce dragon

inner shrine

shrine at Enoshima

manhole cover at Enoshima

The wind is blowing fiercely today and, as I’m walking up a sandy path, I’m pelleted by stinging sand.  I feel like I’m in the midst of a desert sandstorm.  When I come to a high clearing, I find Koibito no Oka, the Love Bell, sitting pretty with a good view of Sagami Bay. It is customary for couples to ring the bell together for good luck in romance. It’s also a tradition for couples to write a message on a lock and leave it hanging at the site.

locks overlooking the sea

I stop at a restaurant overlooking the south side of the island. I’d like to sit at a window seat in open air, but the wind is blowing so fiercely that the restaurant has closed all the windows on the balcony and is not seating anyone out there.  So I sit inside and order my favorite go-to meal of shrimp tempura with some accompaniments.

a tempura lunch

While going down the stairs to the southern coast, there are some stone monuments on the landing overlooking the Chigogafuchi Abyss.  The second one from the right has a haiku poem by the famous poet Matsuo Basho (Edo period).  Hattori Nankaku is famous for his verses.  He was born in Kyoto and studied under Ogyu Sorai in Edo.

Monuments overlooking Chigogafuchi Abyss

walking down to the sea

The name “Chigogafuchi Abyss” comes from the tragic tale of a chigo (a young Buddhist page) at the Sojoin Temple in Kamakura.  His name was Shiragiku and he killed himself by jumping into the deep water here.

The wind is so headstrong here that the waves are hurling themselves over the rocks and a man is shouting things I don’t understand through a megaphone.  The path shown in the photo below is closed off; I’m disappointed as I hoped to walk along the rocky coast here.  It turns out the man is trying to round-up all the people on the rocks and have them move to higher ground.  When he finally succeeds, he cordons off the area and we have no choice but to stand and observe the unruly sea from above.

the restless sea

the sea at Enoshima

the sea at Enoshima

the sea at Enoshima

the sea at Enoshima

the sea at Enoshima

the sea at Enoshima

the sea at Enoshima

I love watching the roiling sea while the wind whips my hair all about.  I love windy days!!

the sea at Enoshima

the sea at Enoshima

the sea at Enoshima

After enjoying the crazy antics of the waves against the rocks, I climb the steep stairs back to the top of the island.

climbing the long steps up again

hydrangeas at Enoshima

all abloom

On the way down from the top, I catch another view of the Enoshima Yacht Harbor and the Enoshima Shonan Yacht Club House.

View of Enoshima Yacht Harbor

Enoshima Yacht Harbor

another shrine on Enoshima

Olympic Memorial Fountain

Sagami Bay from the beach at Enoshima

I finish my walk around Enoshima and though it’s been a long day, I decide I should take the Enoden train to visit Hasadera, a temple that is known for its fabulous hydrangea walk.  As it’s the season for hydrangea, I figure I should go since the temple is not that far away.  Little do I know the hassles I will encounter, and that I will have to visit Hasadera three times to finally be able to do the hydrangea walk!

Most of the information in this blog post, unless otherwise indicated, is from an excellent tourist brochure, the “Enoshima Illustrated Map,” created by the Fujisawa City Tourist Center: Katase Enoshima Tourist Information Center.

 

a may cocktail hour at the family mart   5 comments

Wednesday, May 31:  Cheers!  Welcome to my second cocktail hour here in Japan. We’re meeting at the local Family Mart tonight.  We’ll sit out front on the plastic chairs.  It happened quite by accident that I began stopping by this Family Mart on my way home from work. I’ll tell you about it after I get you a drink.

It’s either beer or wine here at the Family Mart, so take your choice.  My favorites are the Japanese beers, of course: Sapporo, Kirin, and Asahi.  Asahi and Kirin are my favorites. I’ll be happy to treat; just tell me what you’d like.

Please do tell me about your May.  Have you done anything unusual or just followed your normal routine?  Have you traveled anywhere?  Have you read any good books or watched any good movies or TV shows? Have you visited any gardens?  I took weekend or day trips to: Meiji Shrine and Harajuku, Sankei-en in Yokohama, Mt. Takao, Kameido Tenjin Shrine and the Nezu Museum, the Imperial Palace East Garden, Kawasaki, Odawara Castle and Hakone. Here are a few tidbits about my May.

Monday, May 1:  I went with my colleagues to an Izakaya, above the Pachinko parlor near Fuchinobe Train Station.  An Izakaya is an informal Japanese gastropub, a casual place for after-work drinking. Izakayas have been compared to Irish pubs, tapas bars and early American saloons and taverns.

We drank a couple of mugs of a delicious ale and I ordered an avocado topped with a kind of wasabi-gel, along with some sushi. My friend Graham ordered a kind of pickled mackerel. The whole evening was planned by our Aussie colleague Rob in order to celebrate our only holiday this semester, coming up on Wednesday: Golden Week.

The funniest part of the evening was when our Irish colleague Deirdre told us about these “uraynals” in London that pop up from the ground to allow men to pee after they’ve been drinking at the pub. She kept referring to “uraynal” this and “uraynal” that, and I admit that at first I had no idea what she was talking about.  Finally it dawned on me that she was saying “urinal.”  I said, “That’s so funny you keep referring to them as “uraynals,” because we call them “urinals” in America.”  My American colleague Joe said, “It’s like when we used to say Ur-anus and now we say Uran-us.”

Later, after the conversation turned to other things, I complained that if I kept drinking all this beer, I’d have to pee on the way home; and there was nowhere to do so. Deirdre said, “Oh, that’s never a problem in Japan.  There’s a 7-11 on every corner, so you can pop into one and use the toilet.”  “No,” I replied. “There is not one 7-11 between here and our apartment.  There is NOTHING on that long walk home.”

Joe said, “Don’t worry, maybe you can find a “uraynal.”  Just don’t forget to wipe Uranus.” It was hilarious, and we all laughed long and hard at that one. 🙂

Tuesday, May 2: After work, I stopped at a place called “Beauty” for a haircut. The stylist, Atsushi Matsunaga, wearing makeup and tiny-checkered pants, and sporting a helter-skelter haircut, tried to understand my desired haircut. I showed him the picture I always show everyone.  I pointed to the shaggy bottom of the model’s hair. He said, “Oh… shaggy!”  When he started cutting, I told him to make it shorter; he said, “Oh… short and shaggy.”

He started cutting the sides of my hair with thinning shears, but it wasn’t getting rid of enough of my hair. I always hate it when people use those scissors on my hair because it shows they’re going to be timid in their haircut.  I have very thick and unruly hair, and I often have trouble getting stylists to cut enough of it. I drew Atsushi a set of pictures to show I wanted the bottom straight and not angled at the bottom.  When he finished and they dried my hair, my hair looked like a helmet-head.  I knew it was because he didn’t put enough layers in the sides.

I drew another set of pictures showing a helmet head, thick and straight at the bottom, and another picture with a more rounded profile, sharp at the bottom.  He said “Oh, sharp! – Short, shaggy, sharp!”

That’s the haircut I got, though without enough layers.  When I came home, I stood in front of the mirror with my pair of dull scissors and butchered it some more, chopping more layers into the sides of my hair. 🙂

Tuesday, May 9:  My apartment was getting dusty, but as it’s carpeted and I don’t have a vacuum cleaner, I wasn’t sure how to clean it. One of my colleagues, Dennis, told me I could buy a roller with adhesive on the outside that I could roll over the carpet to pick up dust.  After the roller gets filled with dust and hair, you can peel it off and use the fresh piece of adhesive underneath. Tonight, I stopped at the 100 Yen store on my way home from work and bought one of these rollers, along with a Swiffer mop.  When I told Mike about the roller, he said it sounded like a large lint roller with a handle.  That’s about right.  Using it on my dusty carpet, after blow drying my hair every day for over a month, the roller picked up a lot of dust after just a couple of sweeps over the carpet.  I had to keep unpeeling the dusty adhesive tape, and using successive layers underneath.  It was quite a project.  I wish I were in a ground floor apartment as those have wood floors, easier to keep clean.

Thursday, May 18:  On Thursday night, I walked down a different street than normal to get home and I saw a cozy restaurant that enticed me inside.  The owner, Kenji, who speaks a little English, graciously welcomed me.  His fabulous restaurant is called Kiyariya.  Kenji is a talented and artistic chef, and he has created a lovely little place that I have decided will become one of my regular dinner stops.

You can see Kenji in the picture below with his thumbs up.

Kiyariya

Kenji handwrites all his menus daily in beautiful calligraphy.  I couldn’t read this Thursday menu, but somehow I was able to ask Kenji if he made shrimp tempura; he told me he did. He also served me his fabulous eggplant soaked in olive oil and herbs and topped with grated radish.  It was delectable; I wanted to linger over every bite. My meal of course was accompanied by a draft beer.

This is his large platter of marinated eggplant from which he serves small dishes garnished with herbs and grated radish.

eggplant at Kiyariya

Kenji on the right at Kiyariya

When he brought my shrimp, okra and potato tempura, it was artistically presented.

Shrimp tempura, artistically displayed, at Kiyariya

I sat at the bar at Kiyariya; a fabulous selection of music was piped in.  It was dark, with a cozy atmosphere, just the kind of restaurant I love.  Immediately, this became my new favorite place.

I took a picture of the menu and showed it to some of my students on Friday, and they told me most of the dishes were fish.  I love fish, so that only reinforces my love of this place. 🙂

Friday, May 19: On Friday night, I ran into Dennis next to a billboard right outside the campus gate. He was taking a picture of a QR Code and trying to pull up a map to an Indian restaurant called Curry Naan.  I asked if I could tag along because I love Indian food, so we tried to follow the map to the restaurant.  After losing our internet connection and the map many times, and going around in circles on the confusing streets of Fuchinobe, we finally found the restaurant on a side road off the route to our apartment building.

I was so excited to have found this place, and not that far from home.  Since this first visit, I have also adopted the habit of eating here at least once a week.  My meal is always the same: vegetable curry with a huge piece of naan, a small salad and a 100 yen beer. 🙂

Curry Naan

Tuesday, May 23: I had told some of my colleagues about Kiyariya, and this evening after work Tobi asked if he could come along with me to eat there.  We took our place at the bar, where Kenji showed us his fresh arrangement of fish choices for tonight.  The neatly lined-up array of fish stared at us from the tray, and Tobi and I each picked one to try.

Below is my favorite eggplant dish, Kenji’s menu and my beer.

Kiyariya

After dinner, as Tobi and I walked a couple of blocks down the street, we ran into Graham and Paul outside the Family Mart.  There were only three chairs outside, but one of the Family Mart employees brought us out another chair.  We enjoyed a nice long and boisterous cocktail hour right outside the Family Mart.  This has become another weekly event, except when we find someone else occupying our chairs!  It’s a blast!

Tobi, Graham and Paul at Family Mart

me, Graham and Paul at Family Mart

Wednesday, May 24: Tonight I went out of my way to the Gourmet City for a big grocery shop.  After loading up my basket, I remembered that I had forgotten to get cash, so I checked my wallet to see how much I had.  I had only 1,000 yen (less than $10).  As you can’t use the Japan Post debit card at stores in Japan, only at ATM machines, and my card didn’t work in the ATM at the supermarket, I had to go around and put everything in my basket back on the shelves.  What a bummer!

Thursday, May 25: Tonight Paul and Graham took me to one of their favorite restaurants, Jonathan’s, on the other side of the Fuchinobe train station.  It was sort of like a Denny’s in America.  I ordered a pizza and I told Graham to help himself to a piece.  He said he’d wait to see what I didn’t want.  As we talked and drank beer, without thinking, I gobbled down my entire pizza. I felt bad because I’d offered Graham a slice, and I think he was waiting, mouth-watering for a piece.  What kind of friend am I?

This month, I finally finished The Color of Our Sky (it was just okay) and started reading The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka.  I also got involved in watching The Good Wife, which I’m enjoying immensely.  I tried to watch Amelie for about the millionth time on Netflix, but it only had Japanese subtitles. 😦  I feel like I’ve done a lot of exploring of Japan this month, mostly because we had that five-day holiday for Golden Week.  In June, the rainy season is supposed to be upon us, so I fear that will curtail my adventures. 🙂

 

hakone: lake ashi & hakone shrine   6 comments

Sunday, May 28:  After taking the T bus from the Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands, I’m dropped at Togendai, the northwestern tip of Lake Ashinoko. I’m just in time to catch the pirate ship run by Hakone Sightseeing Cruise.  I run along with a few stragglers to board the ship.

Hakone Sightseeing Cruise at Togendai

Hakone Sightseeing Cruise

The door closes behind me as I embark, and the boat is underway.  It takes about 30 minutes for the boat to cruise to the southeast end of the lake at Hakone Machi.  I have on walking sandals, capris and a short sleeve shirt, but no jacket to keep me warm against the cold wind.  I’m not dissuaded though; I have to take pictures, so I must stand outside on the deck.  The warm seats inside are for sissies! 🙂

Lake Ashi

It’s a rather dark and cloudy day today, and cooler than yesterday.  It seems I made a poor decision yesterday to make the circuit around Hakone in a counterclockwise direction.  Yesterday was a perfect day, warm and sunny with blue skies.  If I had traveled in the clockwise direction, I would have been on Lake Ashi yesterday, and I might have seen views of Mt. Fuji.  Oh well, it’s simply not meant to be. I have missed views of Mt. Fuji because of cloudy skies when I’ve been at Mt. Takao, Odawara, and now Hakone.  I will soon travel to the Five Lakes area of Fuji, but only when the weather forecast is perfect.  I’m determined to see that iconic mountain before I leave Japan.

Hakone Sightseeing Cruise on Lake Ashi

A few rays of sunshine are making their way to the mountains around Lake Ashi, making them glow.

Lake Ashi

Lake Ashi, also referred to as Lake Ashinoko, is a crater lake that lies along the southwest wall of the caldera of Mount Hakone, a complex volcano that last erupted in 1170.  The lake is known for its views of Mt. Fuji, its numerous hot springs, historical sites, and ryokan.

Lake Ashi

There are even a few hardy souls zipping across the lake in their boats.

Lake Ashi

Lake Ashi

We cross paths with another Hakone Sightseeing Cruise pirate ship on the lake.  The other boat is going in the Togendai direction, while we continue to Hakone-machi.

Lake Ashi

Lake Ashi

Lake Ashi

Lake Ashi

As we get to the southeast end of the lake, I’m on the lookout for the Hakone Shrine’s torii gate in Lake Ashi.  I see it, but it’s awfully far away.

the torii of Hakone Shrine on Lake Ashi

Lake Ashi

pulling into Hakonemachi-ko

Lake Ashi at Hankonemachi-ko

We come into to dock at Hakonemachi-ko, where, in order to get to Motohakone, I have to jump ship, right onto another pirate boat.  I cross the dock immediately upon disembarking, and hop on the adjacent boat, which leaves immediately for Motohakone.

a change of ship

heading to Motohakone

heading to Motohakone

On this leg of the cruise, I get a slightly better view of the torii gate, but it’s still a little too far for my taste.

Hakone Shrine’s torii in the lake

Hakone Shrine’s torii in Ashi Lake

Hakone Shrine’s torii in Ashi Lake

pulling in to Motohakone

Motohakone

At Motohakone, I disembark again, and when I ask about getting to Hakone Shrine, I’m told I need to walk along the shore for about 15 minutes. I do so, and soon I’m at the first torii gate of the Shinto shrine.

first torii at Hakone Shrine

At the second torii gate, I walk uphill to the shrine.

Second torii at Hakone Shrine

small shrine at Hakone Shrine

I find the light is always challenging when taking pictures of these red shrines.  It’s so frustrating trying to get a decent photo.  Not only that, but every place is so crowded with tourists or worshippers that there is never a view without people.

Hakone Shrine

I’m now in the habit of taking pictures of the ema at every shrine I visit.  I love them; each shrine has its own distinct ema.  I wish I could buy one at every shrine, but they can be quite expensive, and I don’t want to be loaded down with a bunch of ema when I return home in August.

ema at Hakone Shrine

ema at Hakone Shrine

ema at Hakone Shrine

Hakone Shrine

Finally, I walk back down the hill, hoping against all hope that the torii in the water won’t be packed with people.

a small shrine

Sadly, a herd of people are all taking turns being photographed in front of the torii.  I don’t know why everyone has to have a photo of themselves in front of every tourist attraction!

the crowds at the torii gate in Lake Ashi

I have to be creative and try to get some shots from the shoreline on either side of the torii gate.  The people in the little swan paddle boats have the right idea.  I think I will have to come back to Hakone just to rent a paddle boat for a close up view of the torii from the lake side.

the torii in the lake

Hakone Shrine’s torii in the lake

the torii in Lake Ashi

Hakone Shrine’s torii in Lake Ashi

After trying every angle I can, and deciding I will have to be satisfied with whatever photos I get, I head back on the path to the Motohakone bus station.

a well-worn bridge

a bride on the path

a roundabout path

mossy steps

a stone path

view of Lake Ashi at Motohakone

Motohakone

At the bus stop, where I must take a bus back to Hakone Yumoto, two buses are due to arrive, a local and an express.  The queue is quite long and I worry that I won’t make it back in time to catch my 3:20 Romancecar train. When the local bus, which takes one hour to get to Hakone Yumoto, arrives, it is packed, meaning I will have to stand on a crowded bus for an hour.  The express bus takes a half hour to get to Hakone Yumoto, but I have to wait another 20 minutes for that one. I decide to move to the line for the express bus and just wait.  At least I’m at the front of that line, so I hope it means I’ll get a seat.

It turns out I’m one of the first people on the bus, so I get a good seat by the window.  A young lady sits down beside me; her name is Whitney and she is an American working in Tokyo for PricewaterhouseCoopers, doing business as PwC in Japan.  She and I talk about how we go out and explore every weekend, mainly just walking around taking pictures, which we both enjoy doing.  She stayed on a whim overnight in Hakone; she wasn’t sure when she came down if she would do a day trip or an overnighter, but she decided because it was such a struggle to get around that she would stay the night. We both agree that Hakone is best as a weekend trip.  She admits that she was able to stay at a very expensive hotel, while I sadly have to confess that my hotel was on the cheap end at $107, and nothing special at that.

It’s a very nice conversation, and it makes the half-hour bus ride speed by.

When I arrive in Hakone Yumoto, I have about an hour to kill.  I originally intended to visit a fancy onsen but it would be too much of a rush to do that in an hour.  Instead I go in search of a restaurant where I can eat some lunch.

Hakone Yumoto

Hakone Yumoto

I find a restaurant that serves shrimp tempura, one of my standbys in Japan, and I enjoy my meal at leisure.

restaurant in Hakone Yumoto

shrimp tempura

I go to the station, where I pick up my bag at Hakone Baggage Service and pay them another 800 yen for the delivery service.  Then I wait patiently for the 3:20 Romancecar.  It turns out I have plenty of time and I probably could have easily squeezed in either the onsen or the Narukawa Museum of Art, which was near the bus stop in Motohakone and is supposed to have great views of Mt. Fuji.  Of course there would have been no views today, and that’s why I didn’t bother.  Oh well, I’ve already decided that I must come back to visit that museum, rent a paddle boat near the torii, and visit the fancy onsen.  As the Romancecar is so easy and fast, I can easily do those three things as a day trip.

Steps today: 14, 613 or 6.19 miles. 🙂

 

the hakone botanical garden of wetlands   2 comments

Sunday, May 28:  After getting the run-around from several bus drivers about which bus can take me from Choanji Temple to the Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands, I finally decide to walk.  I remember that the tourist information lady near the Hakone-Yumoto Station told me yesterday, when she gave me a map of this area, that I could walk from Choanji to the Botanical Garden in about 15 minutes.  In the end, that’s exactly what I do.  It’s easy enough and before long I’m paying the 700 yen admission fee.

The Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands, 2,200 feet above sea level, was founded in 1976, and now contains some 1700 plant varieties, including about 200 types of woody and herbaceous wetland plants from Japan, as well as 1300 varieties (120 species) of alpine plants.

Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands

The garden, which was formerly a flat area containing rice paddies, is now a specially designed ecosystem consisting of man-made hills, rockeries, ponds, streams and several types of moors. It consists of eight divisions: 4 moors, a swamp forest, an upland forest, a meadow and an alpine garden.

Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands

The garden has four different kinds of wetlands: marsh, fen, bog and swamp.  The marsh, fen and bog are grass-dominated, with different root systems.  A swamp differs from a marsh only in that woody plants are dominant.

Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands

Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands

Swamp forest

swamp forest

swamp forest

Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands

swamp forest

swamp forest

swamp forest

swamp forest

Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands

Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands

Sengokuhara Marsh

Three different areas — an upland forest, a meadow and an alpine garden — surround the wetland vegetation.  The upland forest consists of deciduous trees, such as oaks, maples, and dogwoods — all common to the Hakone mountain area.

plants of the cliff

plants of the cliff

plants of the cliff

plants of the cliff

Sengokuhara Marsh

The garden offers a network of boardwalk paths through the different types of marshland. I always love a boardwalk path!

Sengokuhara Marsh

Sengokuhara Marsh

Sengokuhara Marsh

Sengokuhara Marsh

Sengokuhara Marsh

Sengokuhara Marsh

Sengokuhara Marsh

Sengokuhara Marsh

Sengokuhara Marsh

swamp forest

swamp forest

Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands

white fluffy flowers

Now, at 10:30 a.m., I’ve done all the things I intended to do yesterday.  However, my list for today is quite ambitious as well.  In the parking lot of the botanic garden, I board Bus T to Lake Ashi, where I’m told I can take a cruise across the lake on a pirate ship. Ahoy, matey!  🙂

a weekend in hakone: delightful gardens at the hakone museum of art   9 comments

Saturday, May 27:  Before leaving the Hakone Open-Air Museum, I ask a man at the information desk how to get to the Hakone Museum of Art.  He seems unsure, but finally tells me to take the train to Gora Station, and then get on the Sounzan Cable Car to Ko-en Kami Station.  I had already done a Google map search and had seen I could take a bus, but he assures me it is easier to take the train and cable car.  Upon arrival at Chokoku-no-mori station, I ask a Japanese man at the station about a bus, but he impatiently motions that I should WALK to Gora Station.  I should have just hopped on the train as I have the Hakone Free Pass, so it doesn’t cost me anything additional to use any of the transportation in the area.  As it is, I blindly take the man’s advice and end up walking quite a way up a steep hill and then packing myself into the cable car with hordes of other tourists.

Getting around in Hakone is supposedly convenient because of all the modes of transportation, but the timing of such transportation and the confusion about where to catch each mode makes it a challenge.  It ends up being more time-consuming than I anticipated. Finally, I pop out of the cable car at the deserted Ko-en Kami Station, where I wonder if I’ve made a mistake because I’m the only one who gets off!

Just outside the station, I find some lively action, namely a tour group heading in the direction of the Hakone Museum of Art, indicated by a sign.  I walk quickly to get ahead of them, and pay my  700 yen entry fee before the crowd converges.  Then I walk quickly to the moss garden, keeping just ahead of the group.

Okada Mokichi (1882-1955) founded the Hakone Museum of Art in order that “works of art should not be monopolized but made available to be viewed and enjoyed by as many people as possible.”  He hoped that increased exposure to art would help elevate human sentiments and make a big contribution towards cultural development. The Hakone Museum of Art focuses on displaying medieval Japanese ceramics from the Jomon period (10,000 B.C. – 200 B.C.) to the Edo period (1615-1867).

I’m sure the museum has a great collection, but I don’t come here today for that.  I am here to see the moss garden and Sekiraku-en Garden.  I wander through the stone paths under the shade of the maple trees.  Before long the tour group passes by me and I have the garden to myself.  It’s a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of Hakone’s many tourist attractions.

moss garden at the Hakone Museum of Art

I love nothing more than a quiet walk through a deserted and peaceful place.

moss garden at the Hakone Museum of Art

moss garden at the Hakone Museum of Art

moss-covered steps

The moss garden also has a teahouse where green tea is served for a small fee.  I am decidedly not a tea drinker, which my Japanese students find shocking.   How could anyone not like tea?

tea house in the moss garden

moss garden at the Hakone Museum of Art

moss garden

moss garden

moss garden

moss garden

moss, up close and personal

pathway through the moss garden

tangled roots

Besides the moss garden, the museum grounds feature a Japanese landscape garden, Sekiraku-en Garden, which spreads over the slopes of Gora.  It features large decorative stones, a mountain stream and views over the valley and mountains.

Sekiraku-en Garden

Sekiraku-en Garden

tea house at Sekiraku-en Garden

Sekiraku-en Garden

Sekiraku-en Garden

Sekiraku-en Garden

Sekiraku-en Garden

Sekiraku-en Garden

Sekiraku-en Garden

back to the moss garden

moss garden at the Hakone Museum of Art

moss garden

moss garden

After leaving the beautiful moss garden, I decide I should go check in to my hotel. First, I have to find it! By now, it’s almost 4:00 and the other two things I hoped to do today are probably getting ready to close.  My plan was to also visit Choanji Temple and the Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands, but as I already have a full day planned for tomorrow, I don’t know if I’ll be able to squeeze them in.

When I first arrived in Hakone this morning, a woman at the Tourist Information told me that I should take Bus S to my hotel.  She had given me a map of the area where I’d be staying, which is near both Choanji Temple and the Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands. I find the bus stop right outside the Hakone Museum of Art, and take Bus S, watching for the Senkyoro-mae stop.  When I get off, I’m disoriented and have no idea which direction I should go.  I’m near a crossroads and could go in four directions.  I see some Japanese lettering which seems to match that on my hotel reservation; it says 500 meters, so I hike up and down and hilly road for half a kilometer.  At the end of the road, I see a beautiful building on my right and I think, Wow!  My hotel is beautiful!  I should have known better as I got one of the cheapest hotels in Hakone at ~ $107.  Many of the hotels in Hakone are $300-500 per night!! It turns out it was not my hotel at all but the fancy Hakone Venetian Glass Museum.  The woman at the desk directs me right back down the road from where I just walked, and tells me which direction to go.

Back at the bus stop, I see there are two roads going off the main road in a V; I take the left branch.  To my left, I find a quiet and pretty little garden and pond, which I stroll through. It’s delightful.

a secret garden not far from my hotel

whimsical garden

I continue following that road to the top of a hill where there is a hotel with a Japanese name.  I ask the doorman if it’s my hotel.  He directs me back down the hill and indicates I should have taken the branch of the V to the right.  Well, well, well!  That was the direction I had come from on the bus!

Back at the tip of the V, I walk up the hill that I came down on the bus.  It’s a long uphill slog, but finally after another 500 meters, I find a sign that says Nakamura.  At least that’s one word I recognize from my hotel name: Hakone Onsen Sanso Nakamura.  I walk up to the office to sign in.

Almost to the door, I run into a youngish woman who tells me she’s going into town to get some food at the Family Mart and she wonders if I’d like to come along. She tells me she’s from Amsterdam and is traveling around Japan; that she was here with friends but they have now left, and that I should get some mosquito repellent because the pests are inundating the rooms.  I thank her very much but tell her I just walked down three separate roads to get here, so I’d like to check in and relax a bit before I go anywhere.

Hakone Onsen Sanso Nakamura

I leave my walking sandals in a cubbyhole by the entrance and am told to put on some plastic slippers.  I’d rather just go barefoot, but I do as I’m told. I’m directed to my room, after the receptionist tries to find my name on the hotel register.  It’s right there in plain sight, my name in English, so even if he doesn’t know how to read English, it seems he’d recognize it  as the only English name in sight.

In my Japanese-style room, I find my bag all wrapped in plastic and nicely delivered from Hakone Baggage Services.  I check out the room and realize there’s nothing to do here, so I might as well head out to find something to eat.  I’d already read that the hotel didn’t serve any food.  The woman at the desk speaks a bit of English and tells me to go into the town; she gestures down the same hill I just climbed to get here!

Hakone Onsen Sanso Nakamura

Hakone Onsen Sanso Nakamura

Hakone Onsen Sanso Nakamura

After 500 meters, I reach the bus stop where I first disembarked and I walk through the pretty little garden in the V once again.  It doesn’t look much different this time than it did the first time I walked through.

a stroll through a whimsical garden

whimsy in green

tangles in green

I walk and walk down the long straight road in Sengokuhara looking for a restaurant, but I don’t see much of anything.  Finally, I find a place that appears to be a restaurant, so I wander in.

restaurant in Sengokuhara

entryway to the restaurant

Surprise, surprise!  Here I find the young lady from Amsterdam who I ran into at my hotel.  She tells me her name is Lee.  I ask her if I can join her and we have a nice dinner together.  She is of Vietnamese origin but grew up in Amsterdam, so she’s a Dutch citizen.  She says she loves to travel and was with friends until today, but she’ll be traveling alone for the next week.  She is so glad her friends (one of whom was a friend of her friend) have left; she was annoyed by the one girl who was just an acquaintance because she was on her phone constantly.  She is on her way to Hiroshima tomorrow by the Shinkansen.  She reports that all Dutch people live to travel and she’s no exception.

I order tempura and soba noodles.  I’m not really all that hungry after my pizza for lunch earlier, so I end up leaving most of the noodles untouched.  I do enjoy a beer though. 🙂

tempura and udon

me in the restaurant

It’s nice to have Lee to walk back to the hotel with, as it starts getting dark early.  The road up to our hotel is a winding road without much of a shoulder so is pretty dangerous.

Back at the hotel, I go to my room, get undressed and put on the robe I find folded neatly in my closet.  The hotel has a small onsen, so I go downstairs, wash off thoroughly, then soak in the very hot bath for about 20 minutes.  I’m tired from all my walking, so I’m sure this relaxing bath will help me sleep tonight. 🙂

Total steps: 17,088 (7.24 miles).